V. Justice between generations [159 – 162]

159. The notion of the common good also extends
to future generations. The global economic
crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental
effects of disregarding our common destiny,
which cannot exclude those who come after us.
We can no longer speak of sustainable development
apart from intergenerational solidarity.
Once we start to think about the kind of world
we are leaving to future generations, we look at
things differently; we realize that the world is a
gift which we have freely received and must share
with others. Since the world has been given to
us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian
way, in which efficiency and productivity
are entirely geared to our individual benefit.
Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but
rather a basic question of justice, since the world
we have received also belongs to those who will
follow us. The Portuguese bishops have called
upon us to acknowledge this obligation of justice:
“The environment is part of a logic of receptivity.
It is on loan to each generation, which
must then hand it on to the next”.124 An integral
ecology is marked by this broader vision.
160. What kind of world do we want to leave
to those who come after us, to children who are
now growing up? This question not only concerns
124 Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, Pastoral Letter Responsabilidade
Solidária pelo Bem Comum (15 September 2003), 20.

the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be
approached piecemeal. When we ask ourselves
what kind of world we want to leave behind, we
think in the first place of its general direction, its
meaning and its values. Unless we struggle with
these deeper issues, I do not believe that our concern
for ecology will produce significant results.
But if those issues are courageously faced, we
are led inexorably to ask other pointed questions:
What is the purpose of our life in this world?
Why are we here? What is the goal of our work
and all our efforts? What need does the earth
have of us? It is no longer enough, then, simply
to state that we should be concerned for future
generations. We need to see that what is at stake
is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet
to future generations is, first and foremost, up to
us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us,
for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our
earthly sojourn.

161. Doomsday predictions can no longer be
met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving
to coming generations debris, desolation and
filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental
change has so stretched the planet’s
capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable
as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes,
such as those which even now periodically occur
in different areas of the world. The effects of the
present imbalance can only be reduced by our
decisive action, here and now. We need to reflect
on our accountability before those who will have
to endure the dire consequences.

162. Our difficulty in taking up this challenge
seriously has much to do with an ethical and cultural
decline which has accompanied the deterioration
of the environment. Men and women of
our postmodern world run the risk of rampant
individualism, and many problems of society
are connected with today’s self-centred culture
of instant gratification. We see this in the crisis
of family and social ties and the difficulties of
recognizing the other. Parents can be prone to
impulsive and wasteful consumption, which then
affects their children who find it increasingly difficult
to acquire a home of their own and build
a family. Furthermore, our inability to think seriously
about future generations is linked to our
inability to broaden the scope of our present interests
and to give consideration to those who
remain excluded from development. Let us not
only keep the poor of the future in mind, but
also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief
and who cannot keep on waiting. Hence, “in addition
to a fairer sense of intergenerational solidarity
there is also an urgent moral need for a
renewed sense of intragenerational solidarity”.125

125 Benedict XVI, Message for the 2010 World Day of Peace,
8: AAS 102 (2010), 45.


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